QUAERITUR: Act of Contrition in Latin. Okaaayyy.

Every once in a while I get an email asking for the Act of Contrition in Latin.

I am not sure why one would want to say her Act of Contrition in Latin.  It seems to me that the Act is better spoken in one’s own tongue or, if possible, in that of the confessor.  Even when confessing in Latin, which I am comfortable doing when necessary, I have usually said my act of contrition in English or Italian unless the confessor was innocent of either.

The purpose of the Act of Contrition is to express not to yourself, but to the priest confessor both attrition (sorrow for sins because of fear of God’s displeasure – sufficient for absolution) and contrition (sorrow because of love of God) along with a firm purpose of amendment.

And, no, the use of the vernacular during Holy Mass is not analogous.

When you enter the confessional, you are entering a tribunal in which you are your own prosecutor.  Some old confessionals (oh how I wish I had a photo of those I have seen!) even have something like “TRIBUNAL IUSTITIAE” over the door.  In the confessional, you should be concise and clear and precise to convey everything that needs to be revealed in your self-accusation.  If your goal is to express attrition/contrition and purpose of amendment to the confessor, then I wonder if Latin will best serve your purpose if you and the confessor are not truly well-versed.  Maybe it will.  In most occasions your mother tongue will be clearer.

Confession isn’t a game or an opportunity to impress the priest with how smart or pious or traditional you are.  I bring this up not as a rebuke to anyone who with sincerity finds it useful to use a Latin Actus Doloris.  I bring this up only as a prompt to examine carefully the real motive behind the desire to use Latin with a confessor who speaks your native tongue.

Moreover, there are various forms of an act of contrition or of sorrow.

In any event, here is an Act of Contrition from the official Ordo Paenitentiae published by the Holy See:

Deus meus, ex toto corde me paénitet ac dóleo de omnibus quae male egi et de bono quod omísi, quia peccándo offéndi te, summe bonum ac dignum qui super ómnia diligáris. Fírmiter propóno, adiuvánte grátia tua, me paeniténtiam ágere, de cétero non peccatúrum peccatíque occasiónes fugitúrum. Per mérita passiónis Salvatóris nostri Iesu Christi, Dómine, miserére. Amen.

And here’s another version, slightly more familiar to Anglophone penitents of a traditional bent.  This is the Latin of the English form I use when making my own confession in English:

Deus meus, ex toto corde paénitet me ómnium meórum peccatórum, éaque detéstor, quia peccándo, non solum poenas a te iuste statútas proméritus sum, sed praesértim quia offéndi te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super ómnia diligáris. Ideo fírmiter propóno, adiuvánte grátia tua, de cétero me non peccatúrum peccandíque occasiónes próximas fugitúrum. Amen.

Keep in mind that, in a pinch, a person can even say something as simple as “My Jesus, mercy” or “Lord, forgive me, a sinner.”  The point is that the confessor at some point should be able to detect in you that you are sorry and that you intend in that moment to change your ways.  Once he is convinced of your sincere sorrow – and the bar isn’t very high! – the confessor is not to delay absolution once you have confessed all your sins.  This is why when the pentitent gets to the point in the traditional form, “and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell…”, some priests (I include myself) will start reciting the formula of absolution right away even before you are finished with the act.  Why?  The expression of attrition is sufficient and Father doesn’t have to wait to hear the rest.  Father will then usually wait till you have finished the Act and then in a somewhat louder tone say the “meat”, the conclusion of the form, “et ego te absolvo“, etc.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. NoraLee9 says:

    As part of our evening prayers, we say the Act of Contrition. I’m sure there’s no issue in saying it in Latin there….

  2. My old confessor would always absolve me in Latin when I prayed the Act of Contrition in Latin, so I did it…now I only use it in private devotional use and pray the Act of Contrition in English in the confessional.

  3. Geoffrey says:

    Can the Confiteor be used as an Act of Contrition in Sacramental Confession? I seem to recall it being included in the Ordo Paenitentiae. (Of course, this would be the Ordinary Form version, and not the Extraordinary Form).

  4. Bob B. says:

    For many things, I would have my junior high classes incorporate as much Latin as they remembered into whatever we were doing (e.g., Deus meus…) and never had problems with doing so. What was a problem (and the drawing reminds me of it) was not having students go to Confession in the “box.” My reasoning was that we want the students to go to Confession outside of school, too, so have them “practice” as they would in those circumstances – not with chairs set up around the church. The priests would also have the students say the Act of Contrition before Confessions started in a rush to get everyone through. Any thoughts?

  5. APX says:

    Based on the wording of the traditional form of the act of contrition, it would appear that it is something which should be recited before confession, not just during. It makes no sense to “firmly resolve […] to confess my sins” after I have already confessed them, thus giving me reason to believe its purpose is to be recited before confession.

  6. tonypic says:

    I used just a small part of it in Latin when I confessed in a language that I did not know well. In fact I used a few Latin words to help me and my confessor did the same when giving me a penance.

  7. elestirne says:

    I was just wondering about this today. I went to confession this afternoon to a priest who always just asks “Are you sorry for your sins and truly want God’s help to amend your life?” and you are expected to say “yes”. I would guess that that is adequate, though I would prefer it if he would let us use the Act of Contrition in the confessional… especially as I failed to pray it silently before confessing today. Sigh.

  8. NoraLee9 says:

    Geoffrey asked: <> Many in the EF community follow an older form of making their confessions. They enter the confessional, and say, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” and then begin the “I Confess,” proceding as far as “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grevious fault.” They tell when they made their last confession and enumerate their sins. They conclude with: “Therefore I beseech Blessed Mary ever a Virgin, Blessed Michael the Archangel, Blessed John the Baptist, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and all the saints to pray to the Lord our G-d for me.” Father gives any counsel followed by imposing a penance. These directions, as given in the Father Lasance Missal, instruct us that “While the priest pronounces the words of absolution, endeavor to excite an act of perfect contrition….” Whether you recite this Act of Contrition or not? Just about everyone I know who has used this form, also recites the Act at the end, although I think that some may think it redundant. In any case, for the curious, please see the Father Lasance Missal. I am sure this form is found in other old missals as well.

  9. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Hi Fr Z,

    I am a bit confused by this, maybe because I read the entry on this too quickly…since Latin is the official language of the Roman rite, why is it not best practice to say the act of contrition in our official language? As far as I remember, it’s not just the Mass that is supposed to be in Latin…this also holds for documents of the Holy See etc.

    Is saying the act of contrition in Latin to any Roman rite priest not just a great way to remind them that they ought to know the official language of their rite? Anyway, God is fluent in Latin, so no prob there…

    [You might want to go back over the top entry again. If someone really wants to say his act of contrition in Latin, and is certain that in doing doing he is communicating to the confessor that he is sorry and intends to amend his life, then fine. But it strikes me that this is more easily done in the confessor and penitent’s mother tongue. That’s my opinion. At the same time, I would never suggest that we Latin Church Catholics cannot or must not use Latin the adminstration of sacraments. Quod Deus avertat!]

  10. APX says:

    @Ambrose Jar
    When approaching Confession, we should be approaching it with a sense of sorrow and humility. Prudence tells us it is not the time nor the place to use passive aggressive techniques to “remind them they ought to know the official language of their rite”. If said priest was paying attention and using the A of C for its intended purpose, the penitent would have to recite it again in English anyway.

  11. Precentrix says:

    For some unknown reason, I know it in Latin or in French, but not in English. I have never been able to learn it in English – it doesn’t stick for some reason. So I use Latin or, if I think Latin might give the impression of being ‘pretentious’ I use French. My regular confessor right now is Polish and, while his English is much better than my Polish, the Latin does help, especially since he knows some Italian (and yes, some Latin, DG!).

  12. MichaelP71 says:

    I am not sure that I would want to say the AoC in Latin. It took me just until the last week of March to sing the Agnus Dei in Latin. I still don’t know what I am saying. Nevertheless I like to hear the words of the AoC after my confession; I have recently started to get choked up when I get to the part that says”…who are all good and deserving of all my love…” Is it because I am truely sorry for my sins (I hope to God I am truely contrite) or is it because of the impending absolution? I haven’t figured that out yet.

  13. Trad Catholic Girl says:

    I love saying the Act of Contrition, before and after Confession, using “My Sunday Missal” by Fr. Stedman, published in 1938. O.k., so it is not in Latin, but it does provide a rich sense of history and tradition. I especially like, “Oh My God! I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins…”, because, well, I do detest my sins and I am very sorry. Hopefully God has forgiven me for my sins.

  14. RichardC says:

    That last part helps a lot. My priest does the same thing, he starts saying the formula of absolution while I am saying the act of contrition. Honestly, I thought that he was impatient or being a jerk. I have trouble continuing the act of contrition once he starts talking, though. Incidentally, he grants absolution in Polish–or I think that is the language–which I think is neat. [I’m glad that info helped you understand what the priest is doing.]

  15. Bender says:

    Sure God is fluent in Latin, but is the penitent? How is the priest to know if the penitent knows exactly what he is saying? Contrition is an intensely personal act, it must be a real expression and manifestation of what the heart feels, not just what the lips sound. It is more than just reading foreign words off of a piece of paper or reciting what the penitent has memorized.

    If the penitent comes in and confesses in English and then says the Act of Contrition in, say, some language that the priest guesses could be Farsi, what is the priest going to think? What if one says the Act of Contrition by “speaking in tongues”? God is fluent in those as well.

    There is no way for the confessor to know if the penitent is truly sorry unless it is clear that the penitent actually knows a given language. And merely saying the Act in Latin does not guarantee that. The prudent priest would then ask, “OK, do you know what it is you just said? Could you explain it in English so I can be sure that you know?”

  16. Bender says:

    By the way, my preference is that the priest wait until I am done to begin the formula of absolution. It is very comforting to hear the words and be able to take them to that heart which is in need of healing. That can’t happen if we are talking past each other (although quite often I will inwardly think “Thank you Lord” while the words of absolution are being said).

  17. APX says:

    Most priests I’ve encountered will wait until the penitent is finished until pronouncing the actual words of absolution. I’ve run into the awkward moment of finishing the Act of Contrition before the priest gets to the words of absolution and having to wait for him. It seems wrong to beat your priest when he’s already speaking in rapid Latin.

  18. MyBrokenFiat says:

    For as ridiculous as I realize this will sound, this particular entry made me feel weepy.

    We are our own prosecutors. I never thought of it that way. We accuse ourselves in the Presence of Truth of all our failings, and He sits there, in the person of the priest, and offers us mercy.

    I really, REALLY hope to find a confessional before Easter. Seems like confessions during Holy Week always get pushed aside, but I always like one final “scrub down” before Easter Sunday’s liturgy.

  19. iudicame says:

    In a dialog Mass now so often popular in the TLM, the people recite the Creed in Latin and one would expect that they would know its meaning. In the same sense one would expect that with an Act of Contrition the confessor would be equally comfortable with the penitent’s understanding of what he is saying in Latin. No? Moreover, if you go to the trouble of learning the Latin then you would most likely know what the words mean. I know my Apostle’s Creed in Latin and understand it but I could not recite it in English unless using the Latin as an aid phrase by phrase. m [You might review the top entry for the point of saying the Act of Contrition to the priest.]

  20. Centristian says:

    It has never occurred to me to make an act of contrition in Latin, although I have stumbled over it in English while listening to the priest recite the absolution…to see if he said it right. Then it occurred to me that I’m saying something I’m not even thinking about, and wondered what the value of it was, in that case, thereafter resolving to simply make a sincere act of contrition and to let the Almighty sort out whether the priests I confess to use precisely the right words or not. If God has forgiven me, then He has forgiven me no matter what formula was used. If God has not forgiven me because His priest didn’t use the right words, then the God I believe in and the God that exists are two different entities, and I’m not going to live or die in His favor in any event, so it hardly matters what either of us say.

  21. papaefidelis says:

    The only reason to say the Act of Contrition in Latin is to show off and, well, the confessional is HARDLY the place to show off. Humility, friends.

  22. Mary Jane says:

    Saying the Act of Contrition in Latin would *not* be the right thing for me to do. I already confess regularly at an EF parish and I think it would annoy the priest for one thing. I much prefer focusing on contrition and sorrow while praying in English – I don’t have to try to remember the words, and I can pray it and really focus while doing so.

  23. Rouxfus says:

    Using the “Devotions for Confession” section of The Roman Missal (1962) (Baronius) as my guide for the last couple of years, I have adopted the practice of saying, after receiving the priests blessing, ” it has been ______ since my last confession, and since that time I accuse myself of _________” The phrase “I accuse myself” sounded rather dramatic, when I first read that formula other Missal, and didn’t know why it was phrased that way but I thought it made sense.

    What you say above, that in the sacrament of penance we act as our own prosecutors in a tribunal of divine justice (and, we hope, mercy) makes sense and helps me understand the basis for that formula. Thank you, Father.

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